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Donors Pledge Millions For Chornobyl On 25th Anniversary Of Nuclear Disaster

A "sarcophogus" covers reactor No. 4 at the Chornobyl site.
Governments and international organizations have pledged about 550 million euros ($780 million) to help Ukraine deal with the aftermath of the world's worst nuclear accident at Chornobyl.

The pledges came at an international donor conference in Kyiv days before the 25th anniversary of the disaster.

The funds fall short of the 740 million euros ($1 billion) that is the estimated cost of building a reliable shelter over the destroyed reactor, as well as a facility to store the radioactive waste.

But some of the main participants strove to put a positive spin on events.

Of the total, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso pledged 110 million euros on behalf of the European Union, and said more contributions might be in the pipeline.

"I also hope that with the contributions of the [EU] member states that have not yet officially announced them today and the supplementary contribution that I know that [the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development] is ready to make, we can in fact fulfill the very ambitious goal set for this conference," Barroso said.

Not Forgetting Ukraine

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said he considered the 550 million-euro pledge a "preliminary figure."

And he thanked the international community for "not leaving Ukraine alone with this problem," saying Chornobyl had left a "deep wound."

"The Chornobyl nuclear power plant was closed at the end of the last century, but we haven't yet been able to turn the Chornobyl page completely," Yanukovych said. "Today, by joining our efforts, we can do it and we can leave a safer world for future generations."

But many countries in the throes of an economic crisis --including Ireland, Spain, Mexico, and Japan -- bowed out of pledging any money, citing financial constraints.

But supporters of the project say the global community has no other option.

Chornobyl has cost Ukraine tens of billions of dollars over the last quarter-century. Kyiv today pledged a further 29 million euros to help build the new shelter.

The Chornobyl project is being overseen by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, whose president, Thomas Mirow, gave a timeline for its completion.

"We look forward to complete all the works on the site by 2015, which means in four years from now," Mirow says, "so that the people of Ukraine and beyond then can really feel safe and that they really have a deep conviction that anything that could be done has been done to protect them."

Fukushima, Today's Chornobyl

Today's conference comes as Japan continues to deal with the its own nuclear crisis -- the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was crippled by an earthquake and tsunami in March.

Barroso appealed to the donors to aid Ukraine in cleaning up Chornobyl in the aftermath of Fukushima, the worst nuclear accident since Chornobyl and a reminder to the world of the dangers of nuclear energy.

"We cannot go back and prevent what happened and we cannot avoid human suffering this has caused," Barroso said. "But we can ensure that the lasting legacy of Chernobyl is a safer environment for the region and for us all."

Today's conference kicks off a week of commemorations marking the April 1986 explosion and fire at Chornobyl's No. 4 reactor.

The disaster sent a cloud of radioactivity over Belarus and Russia and beyond. Dozens were killed in the initial aftermath and thousands more died later of radiation-related sicknesses, though the exact number is still a matter of dispute.

with agency reports
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